Wounded warriors confront painful past
BAGHDAD -There's a therapy for our wounded warriors that seems hard to imagine. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley reports the program takes troops who're recovering from grievous injuries and brings them back to Iraq to confront the place where they were wounded. On assignment for "60 Minutes" recently, we met 8 wounded Americans on the journey of their lives.
Former Sgt. Brian Mancini says there was a lot of hate in his heart. We sat down with him on an American post in Baghdad. Mancini's returned after being hit by a roadside bomb in 2007.
"I have a titanium mesh plate in my forehead. They rebuilt my whole orbital socket. My sinuses were replace-- are rebuilt. My palate was blasted out. My cheekbone-- was blasted out, with all my teeth. They actually rebuilt that from my hip."
"How many surgeries did that come to," Pelley asked.
Mancini replied, "I have no idea."
"When you heard about this opportunity to come back to Iraq, what did you think?"
"Early on, I didn't want anything to do with it. You know, the resentment in my heart, in my mind-- was pretty, pretty fresh, still."
But come back he did in the program called Operation Proper Exit. It's led by Rick Kell, a retired advertising executive, who's a volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Kell was struck by what wounded warriors often told him.
"What they wanted to do was come back and see that what they had done made sense, that it had validity, that it was not in vain," Kell said.
"Do some of them, I wonder, think that Iraq got the best of them," Pelley asked.
"Very interesting question," Kell replied. "There was a young soldier about the fourth night in, he came to me and he said, 'I don't hear this anymore. I don't hear it anymore.' He said 'I had a voice, and that voice kept telling me I was defeated in Iraq. They beat me and they sent me home.' And he said, 'I never understood that but now I do.' That's pretty amazing."
With the military's help, Kell has brought more than 60 wounded warriors back to Iraq, about eight at a time.
They're here for just a few days. They fly to the place where they were wounded, visit the field hospital that saved their lives, and speak to the troops still here.
"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for people like you," Mancini said to the group at the hospital.
"Was it worth it," Mancini asked. "It was worth it to me."
Mancini said he wanted to have a successful life, and not be "burdened with the demons that that I see here."
"Are those demons gone now," Pelley asked
"I don't know if that's ever going to happen," Mancini replied, "But I think facing those demons and looking 'em square in the face, it makes you a little bit less afraid."
"How are you going to be different, when you get back to the States now?"
Mancini said, "Just seeing the progress that this country's made has made me feel a little bit about-- a little bit better about the sacrifices that my fellow brethren have made. And that our country's made."
Rick Kell is racing against time now to bring as many wounded warriors back to Iraq as he can before U.S. forces are due to leave at the end of the year.
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